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I've been threatening to do this for a while now and I suppose it is time. Despite me swearing that I'd never force myself to sit th...

Monday, November 29, 2021

Black Friday (2021)

Okay I was all over this movie. It has Bruce Campbell, Michael Jai White, and Devon Sawa in it. Those are some bad ass genre actors right there. Still, I was worried that this would be a lame flick that basically has glorified cameos from the three to suck us in. I can now confirm that isn’t the case at all.

Sawa is Ken, a divorced father of two girls who is forced to work his crappy retail job at a toy store on Black Friday. On his way to the store, he picks up his teenage co-worker Chris. They arrive and we are introduced to other characters such as bad ass maintenance man Archie, White’s character, and Ken’s work “girlfriend” Marnie. We also meet the store manager played by the always awesome Bruce Campbell. There are also some hints that meteor storms have been hitting and thru a precredit scene we see that they are not just space rocks.

The doors are opened, and everything goes to hell. Some of the customers are infected by the stuff that has fallen from the sky. This turns them into continually mutating monsters that seem intent on infecting as many others as possible. The store is a perfect place for them to gather and eventually they start to merge into a huge Kaiju type creature. While this is happening, our cast is trying to survive, dropping some excellent one-liners, and generally screaming while they run around.

This movie is a blast. First up all the big names have larger roles including Sawa who is the star of the movie. Campbell is excellent as the store manager being a bit cowardly at times and generally playing everything for laughs. The filmmakers knew who they had cast and let him do his thing. Michael Jai White is a badass and does most of the early butt kicking. He also gets to drop a line he seems to use quite a bit. I won’t ruin it here but if you know his movies you will see it. Devon Sawa is the down on his luck divorced dad and is quite good. He gets a lot of screen time and reminds the audience that he is one hell of an actor. The other performances are also spot on and fit perfectly for the material. Bravo to both the cast but also the casting director. They nailed it.

These monsters are fowl... heh heh
The story itself is paced well apart from an obligatory “getting to know each other” bit in the middle. But the initial outbreak as well as the chaos that follows is a blast. The movie doesn’t try to explain everything right away and even leaves some things unresolved at the end. Getting some resolution for the characters without overexplaining is my favorite way for horror movies to wrap up. That also brings me to the fact that this is an excellent horror comedy. We get monsters that are cool, more on that later, as well as a lot of funny stuff. That isn’t easy to do, but they managed it.

The special effects are great. The infected go thru different mutations as they approach the final form or at least the last one we see. Starting off as pus filled bubbly figures, they end up going full on chicken monster before melding into the giant monsters that go stomping at the end. The kills are decent but not over explicit. There is a fun gag with a neck getting a bottle thru it, but most of the mayhem is off screen. Again, where they excel is the creature design, so I was good with it.

This is my new go to movie for Thanksgiving… sorry Thankskilling. The cast is great, the monsters are fun, and overall Black Friday is a blast. If you haven’t checked it out yet do so right away. You won’t be disappointed.

  

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Fly (1958)

It occurred to me the other day that I had never covered the original Fly for the website. That seems like an oversight, but I just always assumed that everyone had seen this and what could I add to the conversation. Though recently I was chatting with some younger horror fans and was shocked that they hadn’t seen this one, along with some other must-watch movies. You may be seeing some movies here on Fab Fifties that you all know and love but please understand I’m trying to educate the youth!

The movie kicks off with some horrible stuff at a factory. A man’s head and arm has been crushed in a large hydraulic press. They make a big deal that it was set to zero, which means metal on metal with no space. I’m guessing that made a huge mess! It quickly becomes obvious that Helene has killed her husband Andre… because she calls his brother Francois to confess! She won’t tell anyone why she did it so they authorities consider her insane. But why would this otherwise lovely lady go homicidal?

We find out in a series of flashbacks that Andre was a brilliant scientist who has invented a teleporter that can break down solid items and deliver them almost instantaneously to another place. Eventually he decides to test it on himself and a fly sneaks into the chamber with him. The machine materializes him with the fly’s head and arm and the fly with his head and arm! If that weren’t bad enough the longer it goes the more fly like he becomes and in a fun twist the more human, the fly becomes. But will anyone believe Helene’s story before she is hauled off and charged with murder? Well yeah of course.

This is one of the best fifties’ creature features if not one of the best of all time. The story is unique, at least for the time, in that it tells the story out of order. We see what happens to Andre before we see how he came to that end. This could have easily backfired as the movie basically spoils itself. But the writing is superb and knowing what happens makes you cringe during the happy scenes with his family. The movie also builds up some suspense with the search for the fly with human bits. This is the only way that they can save Helene and they wait until the last minute, which is fun. And of course, that last bit is one of the most famous of all scenes from a fifties sci-fi/horror flick. The little fly with Andre’s head screaming ‘Help me… help me’ as the spider comes for it.

Ironically, no one other than Andre dies but the horror comes from the audience liking the characters and being disturbed by what happens to them. That is a neat trick and not something you see very much in horror since the days of Frankenstein. Yeah, I know the little girl by the lake and Fritz… but Fritz had it coming!

HELP ME!
The cast is great with David Hedison who starred in so many great movies and television shows that I won’t even attempt to list them here. Seriously hit up IMDB and check out his resume. This guy had some acting chops and is wonderful as the doomed Francois. Child actor Charles Herbert plays Andre’s and Helene’s fly catching son. Fans might recognize him from William Castle’s 13 Ghosts. And of course, we have the legendary Vincent Price as Francois. He is incredibly good as the brother who simply can’t believe that his sister-in-law could have committed such a crime. There is a lot of talent on this cast, and it makes what could have been a silly premise play much more seriously on screen.

We don’t get to see much of the fly makeup, but what we do see is killer. The head has several moving parts and the actor helps to sell the gag by jerky insect like movements. While they keep it mostly under the hood the reveal and couple of minutes when we can see it makes this one of the most memorable monsters of the decade. They also chose to shoot this movie in color which gives it an added oomph as the creature seems all that much more horrific.

I could keep going but if you haven’t seen the Fly and aren’t convinced by what I’ve already had to say about the movie then I can’t help you. This is a genuine classic, has one of the best creature reveals ever, and stars an icon of the horror genre. This is a must watch for all fans!

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Swim (2021)

The Asylum is at it again with the shark movies. This time they have Joey Lawrence of Blossom fame as a dad who has to fight a shark that gets in his beach house after there is a big storm. Sounds like another silly Asylum monster movie, right? Nope they tried to play this one seriously despite the absurd premise. More on that later.

The movie kicks off with a sketchy landlord getting inspected and shut down. His rental property isn’t safe for human habitation you see. After the inspector leaves, he gets a call on his cell phone and it is a family coming to rent the place for the month. Being sketchy he doesn’t tell them the place is condemned and tells them he has fixed everything that was wrong last year. Spoilers… he hasn’t. After hanging up he gets eaten by the shark. We also see that the dad, played by Lawrence, can’t take a plane to meet his family at the house because of a big storm so he has to drive. That leaves everyone else at the house alone.

Nothing works, remember the landlord lied, so they call a handyman. While waiting for him to stop by a couple of them go frolicking in the water and get attacked by the shark. So they have to leave in a hurry. Though they can’t because the car gets smashed, and the handyman gets eaten by the shark that is now in the basement. More people get eaten, Lawrence’s character finally shows up, and the shark gets electrocuted. The end.

I was not expecting much when I sat down to watch Swim, especially after seeing the Asylum logo. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy the goofy tongue in cheek flicks that they have made in the past. They aren’t good movies but can be worth a watch for a few laughs. That is what I was expecting with such an absurd premise. Sort of a parody of the killer alligator movie Crawl. But instead of leaning into the silliness and try to make a comedy ala. Sharknado, they play this one seriously. That was a terrible idea. When you have a mediocre cast of actors, a paper-thin plot that is completely unbelievable, next to no budget for special effects, and Joey Lawrence this is not the path to take.

This movie is boring which is worse than just being bad. At least a bad movie will keep my attention by having me roll my eyes or mutter to myself about the stupid dialogue or effects work. Here we get long stretches of flat dialogue delivered by charisma challenged actors. Even Lawrence who has done some decent television work seems completely lost as what he is supposed to be doing. I’ve seen Hallmark Christmas movies with more emoting than this turkey. That was a bummer.

The special effects go from terrible to passable. Ironically the shark, which is normally the worst effect, is decent enough. The model is shown sparingly, and they try to keep the scale the same and to blend it in when sharing the screen with the actors. I appreciate that as far too many times the effort is lacking in this department. But then they screw things up by doing some questionable stuff with CGI rain and the big storm. I get you can’t afford big Hollywood rain machines but when we have characters walking into the house from a CGI hurricane and they are completely dry come on. How much does a bucket of water cost you? Also reusing the same badly done CGI lightning shot repeatedly was silly.

I could also point out how we have a character grabbed by a shark and supposedly going into shock that suddenly is “feeling better”! Or I could also point out that they do a terrible job of keeping the audience on our toes by telegraphing who is going to be chum and who is going to live. Maybe kill one of the kids and make us think no one is safe. Swim goes so wrong in so many ways that I just can’t recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, November 15, 2021

Scarecrow (2013)

These made for television Syfy channel originals were a mixed bag. Many times, they were just awful, but occasionally they would strike gold and make a great movie. Though it felt like that happened on accident. So many terrible shark movies… so many. Scarecrow is one of those fun flicks that had me tuning back every Saturday night to see what they had coming up next. 

Students on detention are being sent to clean up a local farm where the community is planning on having their annual scarecrow festival. We have the usual suspects including the popular girl, the nerdy guy, the outsider, and of course the bad boy. Their teacher piles them onto a bus and takes them out to the house where they are met by Kristen, played by a pre-Hallmark Lacey Chabert. Seriously she is in like every generic Hallmark channel movie my wife watches. Anyway, she and the teacher used to be a couple. This is further complicated when another local man, Eddie, shows up. He was also a previous boyfriend, so the plot thickens. 

Luckily, all this character drama goes away quickly when the scarecrow, which was released earlier by some teenage shenanigans, starts to kill off the cast. The bodies keep dropping as they try to make their escape. Cell phones don’t work, cars won’t start, and the keys to the bus are missing. That means they spend part of the time holding up in the farmhouse under siege, and the rest of the time on the run thru the woods with the monster in pursuit. Again, they keep getting picked off until the final survivor does battle with the monster sending it back to sleep. 

Make no mistake Scarecrow follows the creature feature formula and doesn’t break any new ground. Introduce characters, isolate them, kill a few off, then tease them with rescue only to squash their hopes. We have seen this all before, but where I think the movie excels is in the execution. The cast is very good, and the writing is decent. This makes for some decent pacing as well as characters you can root for. Sure, you know who is likely to die, but it’s still sad. There is something easy about a movie like Scarecrow. Consider it cinematic comfort food, like meatloaf with mashed potatoes. I like a nice meatloaf and I liked this movie. 

Another positive is the creature design. It is all CGI, which with Syfy channel flicks can be dangerous ground. But here the monster looks decent and moves around the screen in creepy ways. It almost flows around the set as it hides on ceilings and under the floor before popping in to snatch a victim. Speaking of victims, the movie has a respectable twelve kills. Many of them are offscreen with the results shown later with easier to do static dead bodies. But we do get a blade thru a girl, a farmer killed from the feet up, a shotgun, and the best is someone getting torn open from the inside complete with chest exploding. For a lower budgeted made for television production that is some good stuff. 

I dig Scarecrow a lot more than I thought I was going to. It is a solid flick with some good wholesome downhome horror fun. This made me sad that Syfy has bailed on doing these choosing to show Harry Potter for the millionth time. Regardless of that I highly recommend checking out this one. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer



Friday, November 12, 2021

Lost Continent (1951)

I had never seen this one before and after watching it I can see why. The movie kicks off with a rocket experiment being conducted. They lose control of it, and it crashes somewhere in the Pacific with an experimental nuclear engine that they must recover. So, a group of scientists and some air force personal hop on an airplane and head out. They encounter some strange phenomenon, which they later blame on radiation, that causes the plane to crash. The rest of the movie is them walking and climbing up a mountain to grab the engine all while avoiding the dinosaurs that live on the peak. Then they walk back down.

I jumped into this one hoping that this could be another fun stop motion dinosaur flick like The Land Unknown which I will eventually review here at the site. But instead of that what we get is a movie that had potential but clearly not enough of a script. Things start off a bit slow after the opening scenes of the crash. We are introduced to our three air force guys, one of which is interrupted on a date. I thought she was going to be a love interest, but we never see her again. Instead, what we do get are lots of scenes of them walking, climbing, walking, and climbing again. There is a stretch of the movie where that is all we see for over twenty minutes! When I say Lost Continent is slow, I mean painfully so.

This is hugely disappointing since they had assembled a decent cast. The always great Caesar Romero is our lead and is supported by other familiar faces such as Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt, and Whit Bissel. While these names might be familiar but if you have watched genre flicks at all you will recognize them. Especially Whit Bissel who had supporting roles in gems like Target Earth and I was a Teenage Werewolf. Both of which I have covered for the site. Sadly, this movie isn’t nearly as good as either of those.

Dino fight!
The special effects work is appropriately cheesy and fun. They borrow the rocket footage from another movie, but the dinosaurs are all original. We get one short lizard standing in for prehistoric monster gag but most of the dino action is done with stop motion effects. While they aren’t Harryhausen level good I thought they were fun. But then I’m partial to stuff like this and enjoyed seeing them fight it out on screen. Sadly, we don’t get a single composite shot with the actors being menaced by the monsters. Not even some rear projection gags. I don’t ask much from my monster movies, but this is a deal breaker.

Sadly, Lost Continent is just a bad movie. A decent cast and some fun stop motion can’t overcome the terrible pacing and a lack of story. This could have easily been a fun little flick had they put more effort into making sure they had a script before shooting it. I’m going to recommend passing on this one.

 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Blacula Blu-Ray Article


note: I had a column in Grindhouse Purgatory where I would cover new Blu-Ray releases with a focus on special features and if it was worth double dipping aka. replacing your DVD copy. Blacula is a favorite of mine so when I saw it get released on Blu-Ray I knew I had to check it out. 


The Blu-Ray report: The Blacula Series

by

John Shatzer

Every time that we get a new home video format I watch as the companies putting out movies run out of material. They end up digging up all sorts of obscure films to fill their inventories and when that fails they start to re-release stuff we already have. As a movie fan this can be both fun and overwhelming. Do I double dip on a Blu-Ray, or don’t I? What about the releases I’ve never heard of? Well fear not good readers I’m back again to help you out with the Blu-Ray report.        

Last time I did Spaghetti Westerns so I thought I’d stay in the Drive-In but check out some classic Exploitation, specifically Blaxploitation. Seeing the new Blu-Ray double feature of Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream sitting in my to watch pile was all the inspiration that I needed for this decision. Time to dive back in and see if the efforts by Shout Factory has made the purchase worth it. Be warned that my review will contain spoilers. If you don’t like that sort of thing stop reading now!

            It makes sense that I would watch the movies in order so the first that I popped in was Blacula, released in 1972. If you haven’t seen this movie shame on you! Things start off with an African Prince visiting the powerful aristocrats of Europe in an effort to get the slave trade stopped. He and his beautiful wife have the misfortune of having supper with Count Dracula! Things go sideways and Dracula makes the prince a vampire solely it seems to lock him in a coffin and have him suffer hunger for all eternity without being able to feed. He also tosses the prince’s wife in to die a slow death locked in the tomb unable to help herself or him. Dracula is kind of a jerk!

            Years later a couple of interior directors buy the contents of the castle and ship it back to the states. Sure enough they crack open the coffin and Blacula gets loose. He goes off feeding and creating his own little army of vampires. Eventually he sees a woman that looks like his long dead wife and decides that she has been reincarnated. The rest of the movie is him pursuing her while being hunting by a doctor that has figured out vampires are running around town. Not going to spoil the ending, but I will say it doesn’t end well for our vampire prince.

            I’ve always been rather annoyed with how Blacula and its sequel get treated by many horror fans. Maybe it is because the title implies that this is just a gimmick that plays on the name of Dracula, or perhaps the lack of quality of some of the movies that were “inspired” by Blacula. That said people really need to give this movie a chance. It has a great cast, some good scares, and the makeup effects are decent for the limited budget. William Marshall is amazing in the lead role of Blacula. The guy has the sort of screen presence that allows him to not only carry the movie, but command his scenes in such a way that makes the character seem larger than life. Considering he is the lead in a horror movie this is key to making the movie work. Marshall is also the sort of actor that can make his monster sympathetic. There is a beast inside him that takes over, one that exists because of what was done to him and not because of his choices. This is a theme that is dealt with more in the sequel.

            There are some decent scares and creepy bits in the movie. The first is when Blacula slowly stalks up on the decorators after they have let him loose. This could have been silly but it is shot in such a way that it works. This is also a prime example of Marshall owning the screen and being intimidating. A couple more highlights are a sequence in the morgue that I liked a lot. It is stylized with a vampire bursting from a door and has always been a treat for me. Finally, there is a bit with them digging up a corpse to prove the vampire theory. Best jump scare of the film right there.

            While the makeup in a vampire movie isn’t as important as say a werewolf or zombie movie it can still wreck things if it isn’t done well. Blacula has very simple look with the expected fangs, grayish skin, and in a neat twist more hair. When Blacula or any vampire is about to feed they get really hairy and bestial in appearance. When Blacula gets angry he gets very animalistic and damn near growls at his victims. It plays into the idea that there is a wild creature inside the vampires that escapes and takes over when they feed or get angry. I’ve always thought that this was a neat idea and wonder why more vampire movies don’t do it. Way better than the sparkly teen heartthrobs…

            Okay so now time to get to what you were all waiting for. Is this worth a double dip? First thing that I noticed before I even popped the movie in is that both are on one disc. That made me wonder how many special features we were getting. Truth is for Blacula not much. By now I don’t think that anyone considers the trailer and a photo gallery to be special features, though they are listed as such. The only other item is a commentary track with film historian David F. Walker. Honestly, he doesn’t bring much to the table. Everything that he talks about is easily found on the web and probably already known by the fans. There are also a couple of spots where he gets a bit “snarky” that annoyed me. The best thing going for this release of Blacula is the transfer. It isn’t perfect but it is noticeably better than my Midnite Movies double feature.

My final thoughts on Blacula is that from start to finish it is a solid horror flick that holds up really well more than forty years after it was made. If you have the same Midnite Movies DVD that I do this one is worth picking up for how much better the movie looks. But then this isn’t only about Blacula so let us take a look at the sequel.

The success of Blacula lead to Scream Blacula Scream in 1973. Given how final the ending of Blacula was I wondered how they were going to bring him back. I mean the ending was satisfying and in some ways sort of redeemed the character. Thankfully instead of the oops someone pulled the stake from Dracula’s heart bit that we always seem to get in the “other” classic vampire franchise the writers here are far cleverer.

Things kick off with a power struggle in a voodoo cult. The leader dies and she passes over her son in favor of a woman that she took in and trained. Her son, Willis, decides to get some revenge and is given some bones by a mysterious man. Using his magical powers, he brings Blacula back to life to use against cult. Only right away Blacula turns the tables and makes Willis his servant. If that isn’t humiliating enough for poor old Willis he has to watch as Blacula befriends his rival and asks her to use her power to free him from his curse. All he wants to do is return to his people after being rid of the beast within him.

The more I watch these movies the more I feel like Scream Blacula Scream is superior to the original. The story is even tighter and doesn’t have to spend any of its time explaining the origins of the vampire. Marshall is even better the second time around adding more depth to the character of Blacula. Between his performance and the writing, the audience gets the impression that again he is trying to fight his curse and wants to be free of it. But then again there are other times where he seems to revel in his power over his minions. There is a duality to the character that is more noticeable in this second outing. When the ritual is interrupted by the heroes coming to save the day Blacula becomes so angry that the woman he has recruited rejects him as being beyond her help.

I mentioned minions in the above paragraph and wanted to elaborate some on that. One of the highlights of this sequel is seeing Blacula interact more with the vampires that he creates. We get a brief bit in a warehouse in the first movie but here the other vampires get more screen time, especially Willis who is Blacula’s first snack after being brought back. I liked seeing these interactions because they reinforce the conflict within Marshall’s portrayal of the vampire. At times he is brutal and at other times he shows mercy. Though in the end he basically uses them all as sacrificial lambs to shield him from those trying to stop the ritual. Even in trying to redeem himself he damns himself. There is a lot of depth and thought put into the script and performances which is why these are such great movies.

Marshall is again brilliant in the role of Blacula for the reasons I’ve already mentioned above. This time they doubled down on the cast by adding familiar faces like Pam Grier who plays Lisa, the woman trying to help him rid himself of the curse. She gives her normal solid performance and is an asset to the cast. I also liked Richard Lawson as Willis whose jealousy gets the ball rolling.

I clearly enjoy Scream Blacula Scream. But what about the special features? Again, we get photos and a trailer. Though this time around there isn’t a commentary track. Instead we get a decent interview with Richard Lawson. It is less than fifteen minutes long but I thought it was a much better bonus than the commentary. He actually worked on the movie and could speak about the cast, director, and what the set was generally like. When I think about special features this is what I’m expecting and while there is only the one interview I’ll take it. I’d also like to note that the transfer is again an improvement over my old Midnite Movies double feature.

Finishing up this installment of the Blu-Ray report I’d recommend picking up the new Blacula double feature disc from Shout Factory. While I wished they had more interviews and other goodies the transfers are likely an improvement over what most of us already have. And of course, we get the Richard Lawson interview which is a nice extra. Best of all the Blu-Ray is cheap at around fifteen bucks. Worth the investment I’d say.

Well that is it for this installment of the Blu-Ray report. I hope that I was able to steer you away from wasting your money by pointing you towards the good buys. If you enjoyed this please check out my blog at horrordude.blogspot.com for more of my musings on all things movie related. As always please feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any complaints or compliments! I’m always eager and ready to converse with another movie fan.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)

My dive into the Critters franchise continues with this second installment. This sequel picks up a couple of years later with the son, Brad, of the Brown family returning to Grover’s Bend to visit his grandmother for Easter. It seems that after the events of the first movie the family moved away to Kansas City. Mostly because the rest of the town didn’t believe that the little monsters from space were real. This is also why sheriff Harv was voted out in the election following the first invasion. That night didn’t go well for anyone involved!

If you have seen the first movie you know that while they killed the Critters, there were a batch of eggs left behind. Well these finally hatch right before Easter when Brad is back in town. Lucky for him they were detected so the alien bounty hunters from the first movie also return with the town drunk Charlie coming back with them. This leads to a big battle, a lot more townsfolk dying, and the giant Critter ball of death rolling around. Basically, we get a bunch more mayhem and fun with the hungry homicidal puppets!

Looking at the horror movies of the eighties I’d say that Critters The Main Course might be one of the best sequels made for any franchise. Maybe that is crazy, but I honestly love this flick. The pacing is brisk and there isn’t a wasted scene in the movie. Everything is either there to move the story along or to toss a joke at the audience. The Main Course knows what the audience expects, funny alien puppets and some mayhem. It delivers on both. It wasn’t until I watched the movie for this review that I noticed the movie was directed by Mick Garris. This appears to be his first shot at helming a movie and he nailed it. 

The cast is missing Dee Wallace, always a bummer not to see her, but it brings enough of the original cast back to connect the two stories together. Scott Grimes, who plays Brad, is one of those rare child actors that never seemed to go thru an awkward phase. He plays the character here with the same charisma and energy that he did in the original movie a couple years earlier. Also returning are Don Opper as Charlie and Terrence Mann as the bounty hunter Ug. They are both really good in the roles again. Plus, they added Eddie Deezen in a small supporting role which is always awesome. You might be saying to yourself, “who is Eddie Deezen?” Trust me you know who he is!

There is a bit more blood in this than the first one but keep your expectations low. The critters do eat some folks and there are a few skeletons and eyeballs popping out, but this isn’t a gore fest. The critters also aren’t as good as the first, but we get a lot more of them. As most of the frequent readers probably know by now, I’m a big fan of puppetry being used to bring little monsters to the screen. Critters The Main Course brings the goods and gave me exactly what I expected and wanted.

Probably not a surprise that I’m going to recommend this one. I love Critters The Main Course and go back to watch it every couple of years. It always puts a smile on my face. Find yourself a copy and check it out.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, November 8, 2021

Critters (1986)

Space… where they have prisons on asteroids. The movie opens with a prisoner transfer that goes wrong when some fuzzy little bastards make a break for it and steal a ship. The warden sends some shapeshifting bounty hunters after them. Seems they are eating and killing machines that need to be stopped before they get out of hand. Of course, they head to Earth and land near a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend with the hunters in pursuit. This brings the aliens into contact with the Brown family as they lay siege to the house while the bounty hunters terrorize the town while looking for them. People get eaten, houses get exploded then unexploded, and funny stuff happens. All in all, a good time is had.

I’ve always loved this movie. The most obvious reason is the work from the Chiodo brothers in designing and bringing the Critters to life. If you have read my reviews for the Ghoulies movies you know I love me some puppets. Here we get a ton of puppet special effects work that not only bring them to life but give them personality as well. We actually have the puppets cracking wise and being funny on screen. There is a funny bit with an E.T. toy and another time when one drops an “F” bomb after encountering the business end of a shotgun! Is it any surprise that the brothers went on to make the classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space? These guys are awesome, and it shows here in Critters.

This is a family movie so there aren’t that many kills. We do get to see some Critters explode and another set on fire. But mayhem to the humans tends to happen off-screen. Though we do get some fingers bitten off and several shoulders chewed up. Watch for a very young Billy Zane as he gets the best death scene in the movie. The most elaborate effects work is saved for the initial transformation when the bounty hunter takes the appearance of Johnny Steele.

The cast is filled with familiar faces and one that would be a staple in newer horror movies twenty years later. The most obvious is Dee Wallace playing the matriarch to the Brown clan. She is the go-to Mom for horror movies for a reason, because she is good in these roles. M. Emmet Walsh is the sheriff Harv and is solid as always. Star Trek Voyager fans will recognize Ethan Phillips as the doomed deputy Barnes. And again we get a very young Billy Zane playing the doomed city boy come courting the daughter of the Brown family. Finally, Lin Shaye who seems to be in about every new horror movie has a small part as the dispatcher in the sheriff’s office.

Damn it they killed Billy Zane! The dude survives the Titanic and he gets offed by some fuzzy alien bastards… Seriously I love this movie. Because of the PG rating this was acceptable viewing in my house while I was growing up, so I watched it a lot. Even afterwards I still keep the Critter movies in heavy rotation. I guarantee you one of them gets played every few months at Casa de Crappy Movie Reviews. I’d like to think that most of you have seen these movies but if you haven’t, I’d recommend this one. The sequels are fun but not as good as the movie that spawned them all.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, November 5, 2021

Not of this Earth (1957)

It has been far too long since I’ve gotten my Roger Corman on, so I figured that checking out Not of this Earth was a good place to jump back in. Not only does Corman direct it, but his regulars Jonathan Haze and Dick Miller show up as well! I’m predicting a good time is about to be had.

The movie kicks off with a teenage couple sitting in a car making a little bit with the smooching. She calls it a night and heads off to her front door while he drives away. But before the girl can make it home, she is stopped by a weird dude who eye zaps her and then steals her blood with his briefcase. We later find out when he goes to the hospital for a transfusion that his name is Mr. Johnson, and he can put people under his command with his soulless monster eyes. Sometimes he kills them, and other times just controls them.

What is up with Johnson? Well, it turns out that he is an alien come to Earth to see if our primitive blood will work as a source to save his dying race. They had a nuclear war and now they need our blood! It is up to his hired nurse, he needs nightly transfusions to live you see, and her cop boyfriend to save the day. They do but sadly his assistant, Jonathan Haze’s character and a traveling vacuum salesman, Dick Miller, end up dead! Seriously Miller is awesome as the super hip huckster.

Dick Miller rulex!
Roger Corman had a formula early in his career. He made quick, cheap, and entertaining movies that got the job done. Clocking in a barely over an hour Not of this Earth is a prime example of how it worked. There is a simple concept that could be shot on generic sets without a ton of special effects work. Basically, the only alien bit is his eyes and most of the movie Mr. Johnson is wearing dark glasses. This is simple and genius. The story is very tight with no wasted scenes and again the runtime is on the short side, which means it never gets boring. This is admittedly a story that probably wouldn’t hold up if it stuck around much longer than it does.

Another thing that Corman did was get great actors. Here he cast the lovely Beverly Garland as the nurse and veteran actor Paul Birch as Mr. Johnson the alien. They take what are admittedly absurd situations and play the hell out of them. To pad things out he lets regulars Jonathan Haze (Little Shop of Horrors) chew some scenery up being hip daddio as right-hand man Jeremy. Dick Miller gets a much smaller part but is very memorable in his role as well. These scenes are clearly there to pad things about a bit, but they are so good at it that the movie doesn’t suffer. Roger Corman was a genius at identifying talent and letting them be creative.

Not sure what else I can say. This isn’t a classic by any stretch. It isn’t even one of Corman’s best movies. But it’s fun and not a bad way to kill an hour. I guess that the only thing that was a bit of a bummer is that Not of this Earth is lacking the iconic monster that a lot of his movies featured. Still, I dig it and can recommend this one.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Beyond Atlantis Blu-Ray Review/Sid Haig tribute

 note: I originally wrote this for Grindhouse Purgatory. I'm posting it here as part of the Throwback Thursdays that I occasionally do. This is part movie review, part Blu-ray review, and part musings about my love for this movie and the late Sid Haig. - John


The Blu-Ray Report: Beyond Atlantis

 

by John Shatzer

 

When Pete had mentioned wanting to do a tribute issue to the late Sid Haig, I immediately started thinking about how I could tie him into my usual article here at Grindhouse Purgatory. He appeared in so many great movies over the years that I was sure there was one with a recent Blu-Ray release that I could cover. After a few minutes it hit me that I had the new release of the drive-in classic Beyond Atlantis from the fine folks at VCI sitting in my to watch pile. A movie that I’ve always been a huge fan of. This might be the easiest decision I’ve had to make when it comes to what to cover.


In case you haven’t seen this movie, I’ll give you a brief recap of the plot. Things kick off with a fisherman, portrayed by Filipino legend Vic Diaz, dropping off some supplies to a beautiful blonde woman. She pays for them with pearls and the man leaves. As soon as he is out of sight some strange fish eyed natives come from the woods and she gives them orders while disrobing. Okay movie you have my attention.

The action then moves to the city where the same fisherman is selling the pearls to East Eddie, played by Haig. Immediately realizing the value and rarity of the pearls, he attempts to pump the man for information, but the fisherman gives nothing but where he lives. This he will regret later. Later Eddie recruits a couple other Americans, Vic and Logan, to help him locate the source of the pearls. Together they make plans for their expedition and along the way are forced to bring along a woman named Kathy. She overheard them talking and as a scientist trying to make her mark realizes the pearls they have look much like some from an ancient stone mask she has been studying. Making some connections she threatens her own expedition including getting the authorities involved if she can’t join theirs. Along with some of Eddie’s men and the crew from Vic’s boat they head off.

After a quick stop at the fisherman’s village, where they rough him up for the location of the mysterious island, they arrive at their destination. They find some abandoned huts, but eventually do meet up with the natives. You have the odd-looking locals, those fish eyed natives mentioned earlier, as well as the beautiful woman and her father. We find out her name is Syrene and her father is Nereus. I’m jumping ahead a bit here but since it is in the title it should come as no surprise that they are descendants of refugees from the lost city of Atlantis. The timing of their arrival couldn’t be better since it is time for Syrene to mate with an outsider. Once that is accomplished then they can be committed to the sea… which is a nice way of saying they are going to murder the hell out of them! Some shenanigans go down with rejection, jealousy, greed, and a couple other sins before we get the explosive and somewhat odd ending.


Let me chat about my personal connection with Beyond Atlantis before I get into the general discussion of the qualities of the movie. I’ve mentioned more than once in these pages that I grew up with a lot of these films. This isn’t one of them. My first exposure to Beyond Atlantis was at Cinema Wasteland, a convention that I’m sure many of you readers are familiar with. They were showing the movie on 16mm film one Saturday night and I plopped down to watch it and was sucked right in. The next morning, I went looking in the dealer’s room for a copy of the movie to take home with me. The only thing available at the time was a bootleg that I think was sourced from another 16mm print. I can say that because I went right home and watched it again noticing different defects from what I had seen the night before. For years this was the best version that I could find, but I’ll save that discussion for later.


Now to the movie itself. The plot is tight and quickly introduces our characters before setting them off towards the island. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, but you still get a good idea who Vic, East Eddie, and Logan are in just a couple scenes. This includes some killer dialogue from Haig’s Eddie that lets you know where he is coming from right away. The line to one of his working girls, “You go pop for papa” sums his character up nicely. Toss in a fun bit of dialogue at the bar with Logan and Vic to cement who is playing what role in the rest of the story. For the most part the pacing of the story is perfect. Though as much as I love Beyond Atlantis, I will admit that some of the underwater scenes do drag, but the stuff surrounding them more than makes up for it. No matter how many times I watch it I’m never bored.

The great Vic Diaz
The cast for the movie is very impressive and includes John Ashley who was a frequent collaborator with director Eddie Romero and helped produce many of his movies in the seventies. I thought it was fun to see Ashely get a chance to play a heel here as he was normally cast as the romantic lead/hero. His character Logan is a greedy, womanizing, compulsive gambler that is always looking for an angle to score big. Patrick Wayne, yes John Wayne’s son is in this, plays the stoic good guy Vic. This role reminded me of a lot of his father’s western characters as he is fairly quiet. Wayne is decent but honestly is by far the least interesting of our leads. Vic Diaz has a very small part in the movie, but it is memorable. The guy is a legend in Filipino entertainment and pops up in a lot of the productions made for the U.S. market.

Finally, we come to Sid Haig’s performance. The guy was awesome in just about everything that he appeared in so there were a lot of movies to choose from. As much as I enjoy his collaborations with Jack Hill and his renaissance as Captain Spaulding later on this is my favorite performance/movie from his legendary career. From the moment he is on screen Haig owns every scene he appears in. Not only is he physically imposing but his quick dialogue delivery blows everyone else away. I have a feeling that director Eddie Romero knew this as he basically gives him all the best lines. This is the movie that made me appreciate who Haig was as a performer and in my humble opinion also laid the groundwork for what was to come. I think that East Eddie has more than a little bit of Captain Spaulding in him.


Since I’m reviewing the Blu-Ray release and not just the movie I suppose I should talk about the special features. This is easy because there isn’t much offered on this release from VCI. You do get a fifteen-minute-long short titled Remembering John Ashley which I was very interested in. The guy did a lot of work and not much is out there on his career but sadly this didn’t meet my expectations. If you have seen the excellent Machete Maidens documentary, then you will recognize most of this material as being recycled from it. There are interviews with Sid Haig, Patrick Wayne, and Eddie Romero to name just a few. But sadly, they couldn’t even give Ashley his fifteen minutes as halfway thru it becomes all about working with Eddie Romero. I was bummed by this. The rest of the features are the typical inclusion of television spots, theatrical trailer, and photo gallery. Not much to it at all. Though I’ve saved the best for last.

Sid Haig was one of a kind.

Remember way back when I was yammering on about my personal experiences with Beyond Atlantis and watching it for the first time at Cinema Wasteland and then searching out a copy? From that point until this Blu-Ray the only I could ever find were from 16mm prints and even worse the occasional VHS rip. The latter being inevitably dreadful. This time around I was watching a digital transfer from a 35mm negative and oh my God it was like watching the movie for the first time. The picture and sound are amazing and genuinely blew me away. I’ve revisited it twice in the week since my first viewing and I still shocked by how good it is.

I’m dangerously close to totally nerding out here so I’ll stop. Clearly, I love Beyond Atlantis and this release made me very happy. For many years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that this was my favorite drive-in movie. It also has one of Sid Haig’s best performances and just got a beautiful new release. Does it get any better than this? I don’t think so and highly recommend that anyone reading this go out and get themselves a copy.

This brings things to a close. As always you can email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any questions or comments on this latest installment of the Blu-Ray Report. Agree or disagree I’d love to hear from you. Though if you disagree on this one you had better bring your “A” game cause I’m ready! I’ll see you all again here on the pages of this fine publication in six months to either steer you towards or away from the latest release. And as always, I can’t thank 42nd Street Pete enough for the chance to participate in such a great project.

 

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

           

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

I’m a huge fan of Vincent Price and I love the collaborations he did in the sixties with Roger Corman. They were very popular which is why a different company and director, Sidney Salkow, recruited him to be in this anthology of creepy stories. How did it turn out?

Well honestly not very good. We get three stories in this one based on stories from Nathaniel Hawthorne. The first has a doctor and his friend toasting each other in their old age. Heidegger, played by Sebastian Cabot, pines after his fiancé who died on the eve of their wedding many years before. Thru a series of odd occurrences their attention is drawn to her tomb where they find that she hasn’t decayed at all over the decades! This is attributed to some water that has been dripping on her coffin. They figure out this water also makes them young again and brings her back to life. Secrets are revealed that leads to a predictable, “be careful what you wish for” ending.

The highlight of this segment are the performances of Price and Cabot. They are pretty good together. Though I don’t think Cabot had the jealous revenge seeking spurned fiancé performance in him. I just did buy it. The story is tight but is heavy on the melodrama and at times was a struggle to get thru. Though at least Price is in a lot of this one and that is a bonus. 

Price and Cabot are great!
The second story unfortunately isn’t as lucky. Here we have a man who sees a beautiful woman in the garden below his balcony. The garden is locked so he can’t get in and she apparently can’t get out. Though the two do strike up a conversation that leads to them falling in love. The young man refuses to give up on her and sneaks into the garden. Here we find out that her father, played by Price, used his skill as a chemist to make her very touch poisonous. If she touches you then you die. After much hand wringing and professing of love we get a very odd Romeo and Juliet type ending.

While we do get to see a young Brett Halsey, whom most of you here will recognize from his later collaborations with Fulci, we don’t see enough of Price. Without him and his back and forth with the rest of the cast I found this one to be drawn out and tedious. I could see what was coming and couldn’t wait for it to be over. This was my least favorite of the three.

The third and final segment is by far the best. Price plays a man returned to his ancestral home after squandering his inheritance. He is determined to find the legendary treasure hidden there so he can get back on his feet. With him is his wife, played by the very lovely Beverly Garland, whom he doesn’t treat all that well. This is especially so after she seems to have some strange connection to the ancestor and neighbor from a rival family. Oh yeah and there is a family curse connected to both families that ends up playing an important part to the story.

Never ignore a curse...
Here we get to see vintage Vincent Price. He gets to chew up the scenery as the scheming husband looking for a quick payday. He doesn’t care what he has to do or who gets hurt as long as he gets his money. His dismissal of the curse and family history is done so with an arrogance that only he can make frustrating and charming at the same time. Plus, we get a neat haunted house, unrequited love, hidden treasure, curses, and even an evil sister. They packed a lot of good stuff in here. I only wish that they had made the same effort on the other two.

Despite how much I liked the last segment I can’t recommend sitting thru a two-hour long movie just for it. There are much better examples of Vincent Price being evil and creepy then Twice-Told Tales. Still if you must watch it stick with it until the end, because there is a decent payoff. Until next time my friends.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer